Monday, January 26, 2009

Favorite Books of 2008

Several years ago, I began keeping a book journal so that I could keep track of what I read. At this time of year, I like to look back at what I enjoyed in the past year. By my count, I read or listened to 59 books in 2008. Here are some of my favorites (in addition to those I reviewed in this blog previously):

One Mississippi by Mark Childress – This book made it onto my list of favorite books of all-time. I laughed, I cried…no, I really did! It’s a hilarious, spot-on portrayal of high school life and of the early 70’s. When his father suddenly moves the family from Indiana to rural Mississippi, sixteen-year old Daniel feels like an outsider, until he meets Tim, another outsider who finds humor in everything. The boys’ friendship is tested by a terrible accident on prom night. The author successfully weaves together laugh-out-loud moments, serious themes, and a heart-breaking climax.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult – It wouldn’t be a “best of” list without at least one book by Jodi Picoult, who writes riveting novels that explore the gray areas of life. This one centered on a school shooting, something that’s been in the media a little too often lately. But, as usual, Picoult takes a unique look at the subject: the novel is written from many different perspectives, so you see not only the viewpoint of the victims’ families but also the shooter himself, as a sweet but bullied child; his parents; and his childhood friend. As with all of Picoult’s books, it was compelling and thought-provoking. I finished the hefty volume in 3 days, then lent it to a friend who also finished it in 3 days!

Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Glidner – I love memoirs, and this one was my favorite of the year, plus a huge hit with my neighborhood book group. Cathy had an unusual childhood, growing up in the 50’s as the precocious daughter of the town’s pharmacist in Niagara Falls, NY. At the tender age of three, her pediatrician suggested she work for her father to harness some of her unlimited energy and imagination. She has a talent for remembering the tiniest details and relating them from the perspective of her young self.

Jumper by Steven Gould - This is an older book, targeted at teens, but I’d never read it before, and I loved it! I’m not a huge science fiction fan, but I love books about time travel. This one was actually about teleportation, but it had the same appeal for me. Seventeen-year old David is being beaten by his abusive father when he suddenly finds himself miles away in one of his favorite places, the public library. He discovers he can “jump” from one place to another under certain circumstances but has no idea how or why. David tries to learn to live with his new talent in this fast-paced coming-of-age novel with in-depth characters and plenty of exciting plot twists and thought-provoking ethical questions. I didn’t like the sequel, Reflex, nearly as much, nor the movie-version book, which was an entirely different story, but the original novel was excellent.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson – I’ve been dying to read this book for a couple of years, and I finally borrowed it from my neighbor last month. It was just as compelling as I’d expected. Greg Mortenson tells the amazing story of how he came to devote his life to building schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After almost dying on the way down from an unsuccessful ascent of K2, Greg was nursed back to health by the compassionate villagers of Korphe. When he saw the village’s children studying by squatting on the cold ground and drawing with sticks in the dirt, Greg promised to return to build the village a school. He was incredibly na├»ve and had no idea of the kinds of barriers he’d encounter, but he kept his promise, and building schools became his life’s work. It’s an inspiring story that kept me riveted.

Rules by Cynthia Lord – This is a book for middle-grade readers that will also appeal to teens (and adults, too!). Twelve-year old Catherine tries to navigate her pre-teen life while also living with her 8-year old autistic brother. She sets rules for him to follow, to help him seem more normal to the outside world. When Catherine befriends a 14-year old paraplegic boy who can’t speak, she is forced to reassess her ideas about what is normal. Catherine is a funny, warm narrator, and this book is a must-read for anyone who knows someone with autism. I listened to the audio version, with a wonderful reader who perfectly captured Catherine (my review of Rules will appear in a spring issue of Family Fun magazine).

I hope to post reviews here more regularly this year, so check back soon! I’m also planning to create a separate blog for my reviews of kids’ books, since I read and review far more books than I’m able to publish in Family Fun magazine. Let me know what you think.